Lucky Bums

Psalm 84.12

O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

The praise service had been hitting all the marks – the band was in sync, people had their hands up in the air thanking the Lord, and a few were even dancing in front of their folding chairs. The gymnasium truly transformed into a place of worship and the people couldn’t get enough of it.

The sermon was delivered with a beaming smile, encouraging people to look on the sunny side, celebrate successes, and to praise God in all times and in all places. Coffee was passed around to all the worshippers, and whether or not it was the caffeine, people were jazzed for Jesus.

Following the service, as was customary, the preacher stood by the door and shook hands with the people of God. His smile remained bright and shiny as each family, couple, and individual walked by.

Until one woman stormed past him and everyone else while muttering words under her breath.

The preacher apologized to the couple in front of him for the woman’s behavior and shouted at her as she sped across the parking lot: “Don’t forget to praise God!”

She stopped dead in her tracks, made a quick 180, walked right up to the preacher, and put her index finger into his nose. “I’ve had it up to here with you and all your silly happiness and praise. I can’t stand coming to a church that won’t let me feel what I’m feeling, and I’m never coming back.”

And she never did.

Happiness is such a fickle thing. Happiness comes and goes like the wind and we rarely hold onto it as long as we’d like to. The demands of life always catch up with us and for as much as might want to “keep on the sunny side,” the night will come. 

The psalmist writes, “O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” And the word “happy” is notable because in other translations it is rendered as “blessed.” 

And there’s a big difference between happiness and blessedness.

The differing translations come from the Greek word MAKARIOS which, at times, can mean happy, blessed, contented, and a slew of other things.

And yet, the words we use carry great meaning. For instance, happiness is often seen as a feeling that can change depending on one’s internal or external circumstances. Such happiness ebbs and flows depending on a variety of factors. Happiness, then, is somewhat under our control. That is: we can make ourselves feel happy by engaging in certain activities.

But being blessed has little, if anything to do with our control and agency. We are blessed by others and not by ourselves. In other words, our blessedness is not within our own control but only something offered to us like a gift.

In the church we call it grace.

We are blessed not because of our own machinations or because we have earned it or deserved it. We are blessed because we are swept up in God’s goodness. The acts of God in Christ make us blessed.

Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian of the 20th century, translates being blessed like this: “You lucky bum!” To be blessed by God is nothing more than receiving something that we never should have received in the first place except for the fact that God delights in doing so. 

Jesus doesn’t wait on the arms of the cross until we are happy enough or good enough or repentant enough before he declares forgiveness upon us and all of creation.

Jesus doesn’t hide behind the stone in the tomb until we get our lives sorted out, or right all of the wrongs, or exhibit perfect mortality before he returns to us resurrected.

Our happiness, whatever it might be, is fleeting and fragile. But our blessedness is sure and forever because it comes to us from the only One who can offer it in the first place.

Ours is the kingdom! What a bunch of lucky bums we are!

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